Littledown Primitive Methodist Chapel, Hampshire
"with inextinguishable blaze"
Littledown features early in the Primitive Methodist mission to northern Hampshire. Under the date 18th April 1831, evangelist Thomas Russell wrote:
I preached at Vernham Dean. At the close, a woman came, weeping bitterly, and said, “Sir, my husband heard you preach yesterday at Littledown, and he desires to turn into the better way; and I want to find mercy. We have a comfortable cottage; I will sleep with the children, and you can sleep with my husband at any time when you like; and we shall both be glad to see you.”
His Journal entry for 24th April records:
At five, preached at Little Down; at seven, at Lincolnholt: we had good times.
We had great times at Littledown and Lincolnholt.
The chapel was built in 1845, one of the earliest in the county.
It is closed now, but the spark lit by Thomas Russell and his associates in the 1830s was not wholly extinguished for at least 120 years. By the 1950s, the society was known to be staunchly Evangelical.
Pastor Peter Hooks arrived as a Methodist pastor in the Andover Circuit with responsibility for the Hurstbourne Tarrant section, in 1955. The churches of which he had oversight were Hurtsbourne Tarrant, St Mary Bourne, Stoke, Upton and Ashmansworth, Littledown, Wildhern and Vernham Dean.
The Bourne Valley Youth Fellowship was set up in the 1950s, with 8 a.m. Sunday prayer meetings at the former PM chapel in Hurstbourne Tarrant. It was established by Ernie Hopkins, a local baker and Methodist local preacher who had come from Wolverhampton and was living in Hurstbourne Tarrant.
In the same general period as Pastor Hooks’s arrival, there Joe Bush, an evangelist to village children, gave regular tent missions. Another tent evangelist, Sandy Thompson, visited the village.
Two female Methodist evangelists, Deaconesses Beth Bridges and Pam Cooper, came to the Valley in 1956, and undertook a week’s evangelism. Peter Hooks writes as follows:
These deaconesses spent time at St Mary Bourne, Stoke, Hurstbourne Tarrant and Vernham Dean before going to Littledown, and I am sure would have been supported by the prayerful, supportive genuine Christians.
I have this morning spoken to the only person that is still alive that made a response during the mission at Littledown. The mission made a deep impression on the friends at Littledown starting a Thursday fellowship and a Sunday morning Prayer meeting. Edgar Brooks, a local farmer, was part of this Littledown fellowship.
It all makes me think of 1 Corinthians: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus… therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.'” What God did at Littledown in the 1830s and the 1950s, he can do again.
[Photo by courtesy of Walter M. Kilby; 1950s information from Walter Kilby and Peter Hooks.]